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The White Sox' John Danks problem is exposed

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If he can't find his fastball, they should probably find somebody else, and soon

Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Going through the stories about John Danks' ugly start against the Orioles on Thursday night, I couldn't help but notice the byline on the MLB.com version:

Elliott Smith.

That makes for some pretty (ugly) poetry, since the state of Danks' career would fit right in with a lot of Smith's catalog. I mean, good luck trying to find the most appropriate song for this post's soundtrack:

After adjusting from personal to professional disappointment, the quotes contained in the article from Danks fit the bill:

"There are 24 guys in here that are setting the world on fire," Danks said. "That's probably the most disappointing part of it, today at least. Shoot man, we were hot. And still are. These guys are going to bounce back, and we'll be fine, but I got in the way of something special tonight."

And:

"It's been a pretty miserable April," Danks said. "I'm just not throwing enough strikes, just not throwing enough quality strikes. There's been games where I can full on eliminate a pitch, because it doesn't have a chance."

This season is finding other ways of hammering the point home. Most notably, the White Sox are 0-4 when Danks starts, and 16-3 with everybody else. In fairness, he pitched well enough to win in one of those starts, but that's about as far as fairness covers.

Danks is correct that he's not throwing enough quality strikes -- but he also has to throw even more than he did before, because his stuff isn't there. Assuming the Brooks data holds under revision, he'll have failed to average even 88 with his fastball over all four starts. He topped that number in every single start from 2015, including 15 where he averaged at least 90.

(Update: The revised data did hike Danks' fastball over 88, but not by much.)

His stuff has diminished to the point that Baltimore analyst Jim Palmer identified Danks' first two pitches as back-to-back changeups before he recalibrated his expectations. It looks like Gameday encountered the same struggles, because fastballs aren't supposed to be humpbacked:

John Danks gameday

While Danks took his lumps over the last few years, he was able to make the transition to a playable fifth starter by trading in some cutters for curveballs and resigning himself to the junkballer lifestyle. But without plus command, I don't know where he goes from here. My friend Matt watched Thursday's game and drew a comparison to Jamie Moyer, which would be awesome if Matt weren't a Rockies fan.

Even then, extrapolating Danks' numbers for the same workload ...

ERA IP H HR BB K Line Against
Age
2012 Moyer
5.70 53.2 75 11 18 36 .328/.380/.546 49
2016 Danks
7.25
53.2 67 12 26 38 .322/.390/.575 31

This year, Danks has pitched in weather chilly, warm and nonexistent. He's pitched against offenses good, bad and nonexistent. Outside of a velocity jump, the only factor that might make a difference is the catcher. While Dioner Navarro was the one praised for correcting Danks' mechanics when it came to pitch-tipping in the spring, he has yet to catch Danks during the regular season. I wouldn't count on Navarro's intangibles correcting Danks' very tangible issues, but if he's making another start, I guess I'd like to see that particular battery just to turn over that stone.

It's fair to question if he'll get another start, at least on anything resembling a regular turn. Robin Ventura isn't one for broadcasting the end, and he resisted a potential opportunity after this one:

"He’s just living in the middle of the plate and this is not the team to do it with," Ventura said. "Right now we’re trying to make him better and we’re going to continue to work at that and continue to make him better so he can help us."

That's not what people want to hear, but Ventura isn't into appeasing the masses, even when the Sox have plans on doing so. Todd Frazier, of all people, might've picked up the slack in this regard:

"It’s early in the year, so what,’’ said third baseman Todd Frazier, whose two-run homer in the first against right-hander Tyler Wilson seemed to set a good tone for a possible seventh straight win. "We’re separating right now. You want to not separate? When do you not want to separate from other teams?’’ [...]

"Let’s get it now, let’s get some separation so when that time does come when we’re struggling – and it will come – we’re still on top because we have that separation,’’ Frazier said before the game when the Sox were still buzzing having won eight of their previous nine games. "I believe in that 100 percent.’’

However, Miguel Gonzalez's spot start, albeit unimpressive, suggests Ventura is already thinking ahead. There was no reason for Gonzalez to pitch otherwise, and with an off day in each of the next three weeks starting Monday, there are more opportunities for auditions and start-delaying until 1) Danks improves, or 2) another starter proves that he's more worthy of a rotation spot. Gonzalez didn't quite achieve that his first time out, but he should get another chance on the Chicago-Charlotte shuttle, with Erik Johnson and Jacob Turner waiting in line in some order.

Maybe that's wishful thinking, but the White Sox would be right to treat the rest of Danks' 2016 as a start-to-start proposition. They were able to survive one month of Worst-Case Scenario Danks, but mostly because of insane performances from the non-Danks pitchers. In this scenario, the team would need its straggler to pick up for one of his colleagues when regression strikes, but I don't think 87-mph Danks is capable. If he can't find his new-old arm strength, the Sox may be better off spinning one Smith song I didn't name: